Pony up: Celebrate the Kentucky Derby Southern-style in Greenwood Heights

Pony up: Celebrate the Kentucky Derby Southern-style in Greenwood Heights
Photo by Bekka Palmer

Celebrate the sport of kings in the borough of kings!

A Louisville native and his friends are throwing a Kentucky Derby extravaganza at Greenwood Park on May 3 — an annual event that has grown from a small private house party more than a decade ago to a massive public bash that attracts hundreds of people.

Known as the most exciting two minutes in sports, the Kentucky Derby is celebrated in its host city with a two-week festival including music, parades, and even a steamboat race. So when Creighton Mershon moved to New York City in the early 2000s, he could not leave the Louisville tradition completely behind.

“If you grow up in Louisville, you have no choice,” said Mershon, who now lives and works in Dumbo. “The city really shines at the time. You just always looked forward to it.”

Mershon and two roommates hosted their first Derby party in their Manhattan apartment in 2003. It has since gotten bigger every year, moving to different venues, and finally settling in at Greenwood Park on Seventh Avenue between 19th and 20th streets. The organizers expect as many as 625 people to come to their “Brooklyn Derby” party this year.

The festivities will include live music, Southern food, cornhole, and a tricycle race. And attendees are expected to dress appropriately for such a high-class occasion — think seersucker suits, colorful dresses, and elaborate hats.

“We really encourage people to dress up,” said Mershon. “It’s a time for people to show off their style.”

There are also prizes to be won — even if your horse doesn’t finish first. One event sponsor will raffle off a trip for two to a Louisville hotel, while another is raffling off a trip to the Belmont Stakes — the third leg of horse racing’s triple crown — on Long Island in June.

Race rooters will be lavished with plenty of bourbon before the big event. The Derby’s traditional drink is the mint julep, and Maker’s Mark is providing the booze for the party. Bluegrass bands are set to play before and after the contest, and the food will reflect Southern sensibilities as well, with dishes including pulled pork, fried green tomatoes, and Benedictine — a cucumber cream cheese dip often found in Louisville.

But when it comes time for the actual race, the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, all eyes will be on the equines, said Mershon.

“Everyone gathers around the television and goes nuts for two minutes,” he said. “It’s a little crazy, but it’s kind of awesome too.”

Brooklyn Derby at Greenwood Park (555 Seventh Ave. between 19th and 20th streets in Greenwood Heights, www.brooklynderby.com). May 3 at 4 pm. $75.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
And they’re off! Before the ponies take the track at Churchill Downs, revelers at “Brooklyn Derby”will havea race of their own — a tricycle race.
Steve McFarland Photography